From 'Enemy Combatant' to Citizen: American's Earliest 'Amnesty'

"During the 18th century, there were no [unauthorized] immigrants in the United States, but there was a large group of people who posed a far more noxious threat than those who overstayed a visa or crossed a border without an inspection.  They were British Loyalists — men who had taken up arms against the American revolutionaries and risked their lives to undermine the very foundation of our union.  Loyalists’ actions prior to the founding could hardly be called exemplary, yet they sought citizenship after the nation was established.  They and their families made up approximately 20 percent of the population, and most of them stayed here after surrendering, despite hostility and episodic violence against them.  In 1805 the Supreme Court heard the first case testing whether members of this population could be considered citizens.  The court stated that, because the former Loyalists stayed while the states were debating and ratifying the Constitution, they were qualified for citizenship.  This and later decisions showed how, over time, the country exercised reason and consent to create citizenship — even allowing the original sin of fighting against the formation of the nation to be forgiven.  The court decisions created a sort of temporal formula: time + residence + good moral character = citizenship." - Elizabeth Cohen, Feb. 1, 2013.

 - Prof. Elizabeth F. Cohen